My friends used to joke that I was the alcoholic of the group. At least, I think it was a joke. On my 22nd birthday, they threw me a surprise party disguised as an intervention.
“You drink too much,” they told me.
“You’re full of shit,” I responded.
They rolled their eyes and revealed the party and I felt smug for being able to see through them, for knowing that I wasn’t actually eligible for an intervention. Not for that, at least.
I wasn’t, was I?
I used to have three group chats dedicated to friends I partied with; we’d message each other daily to make plans. I used to take my homework to the bars and work on it between drinks and conversation. I used to have a peppermint candle by my bed that I loved, but I had to throw it away because every time I smelled it I thought of lying awake with the spins and I’d start to gag. I used to make myself throw up just to stop feeling nauseous from it.
It’s funny, because I never really classified myself as the “party girl.” I drank, sure, but what college student didn’t drink? We bonded over vodka tonics and stories of drunken escapades and arguments over who would finish their sake bombs first. We found any excuse to go out — holidays, birthdays, successes, failures, boredom. Each night I’d fix my makeup and head out to the bars, where no one bothered checking my I.D anymore. “We know who you are,” the bouncers would say as they ushered me in.
And then I graduated.
I’ll never forget my actual graduation day because I was absolutely miserable. My head hurt. Everything hurt. I’d stayed up all night celebrating and now I had to smile and act excited when I really just wanted to die. I met up with my parents for lunch and my mom looked at me, shocked, and asked, “Are you hungover?” I laughed off the concern and spent the rest of the week popping cheap champagne and coaxing people to buy me congratulatory drinks.
And then something crazy happened — I stopped drinking.
It wasn’t on purpose. I moved to a new place where I didn’t have friends, with a roommate who didn’t drink at all. My environment changed from one that encouraged constant inebriation to one that looked down on it. I got weird looks when I poured a glass of wine at 2 p.m.; my new acquaintances glanced awkwardly at one another when I’d order more than a few drinks at the bar. One time I went out drinking alone and got lost walking around the city for two hours; when I got home, my roommate was already getting ready for work. “You just got here?” she asked, raising her eyebrows in concern. I laughed it off and went to bed, but I couldn’t fall asleep.
I stopped going to bars by myself. I stopped bringing bottles home. I felt too weird drinking alone.
It was a strange phenomenon, to quit cold turkey — I wanted to drink, but it didn’t feel right anymore. I’d watch my college friends spend their weekends at house parties on Snapchat and I’d immediately feel jealous. Part of me craved that lifestyle still, even though I was no longer part of that environment. But, though I wasn’t ready to admit it, a small part of me felt relieved.
It’s interesting how we treat alcohol abuse in our society. How Hollywood depicts epic parties and hilarious black outs, how we’re spoon fed stories of wild nights and terrible decisions. We’re considered weak if we can’t keep up, so we take the extra shot and finish our friends’ drinks and compare our battle wounds the next day. And then I look at how we regard that same behavior with contempt just a few years later, how we complain that people who do all the same things just don’t have their shit together. How can we both glamorize and demonize the same behavior? Why do we glamorize or demonize it at all?
I still tell stories of those wild nights to friends over beers — nowadays, I usually stop after one or two. It’s surreal to look back at the blur that was college and realize it was my life. I think of all the times I was hungover by 6 p.m., when I’d bring booze to class in water bottles and take shots in parking lots, when I’d show up to work still partially drunk. And I think about the intervention sign my friends made for me on my birthday, how it still hangs in my room, a reminder that once upon a time, I was that person. I just don’t think I’m her anymore.